She was pushing the wheel-cart with fruits accordingly spread out on it. She occasionally wiped her sweaty face with an old face towel she kept on her shoulder. A baby about 6 months old clung to her shoulder. That was a sight that had beholden me until today.
It was an evidence that I convinced myself: women would go through all kinds of challenges and pains to bring food to the table. The imprinted view of the young woman and her child stays forever with me. At the precise moment, I knew then that I had to push the entrepreneurship agenda to the utmost.
The incidence occurred in 2007 and I was in Senegal, Africa. I was attached to the World Bank at the time and was attending the World Bank and OIC meeting.
The car that took me from the airport stopped at a road junction where I witnessed the woman in question. That women are resilient to the core, give them the world and they would conquer it. After giving birth, the woman that I visualised in Senegal, had gone out to earn a living. The odds were against her, but she defied the odds.
My interest in this subject matter is based on my presence and observations of the entrepreneurship agenda in other countries. Besides, I too had the opportunities to be speakers in entrepreneurship conferences held by international organisations, including the United Nations, UNESCO and APEX, sharing knowledge and learning best practices of member countries (Pix 1).
For me, the definition of entrepreneurship itself is an ambiguous one. I believe the terminology can be further categorised to include “grassroots entrepreneurship”. The present formal terminology only states micro-entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises and, finally, the global or big players.
I decided to create another category called “grassroots entrepreneurs” due to the fact that this specific group is less exposed to the formal framework of entrepreneurship ecosystem. They can be found in the rural and urban set-ups. An example of “grassroots entrepreneurs” is shown below (Pix 2). Basically, they market their own products in an informal manner and with their own effort.
Another lesson to be learned on women’s entrepreneurship: the fact that half of the world population consists of women. Consider it a waste if they were left out in a quest for elevating the economic growth of a nation.
WOMEN ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION MATTERS
The women of Nepal work hard to earn their living. I saw women working in the rice fields, doing labour jobs in Kathmandu City, selling beads on the streets and selling flowers in the marketplace. Economic empowerment of women is synonymous at global level, be it in developed or developing economies. Always nice to know that women here in Nepal are given the recognition and opportunities to participate in the nation’s economy.
As shown below (Pix 3 and 4), I wonder if the local authorities are imposing charges for them to do the activities. If not, it is a commendable decision because fees and charges imposed on the “grassroots” entrepreneurial activities will definitely affect their income.
The marginalised women, like the single mothers, elderly and disabled, are also being assisted by an NGO called the Women’s Skills Development Organisation which is based in Pokhara. The respective NGO is active with its social enterprise activities. I have all praises for the involvement of the organisation in the women societal wellbeing since its inception in 1975. It has resulted in Nepalese women earning their living through skills training and marketing of the products by the NGO.
I visited a store in Pokhara which was designated for marketing products made by the marginalised women (Pix 5 and 6). The Women’s Skills Development Organisation sent the products to the store. The products were nicely displayed on the shelves.
The respective store is frequented by tourists; it was a heartening sight to see tourists buying the products. I bought one of the bags on display; I always have this great feeling buying such items because I know that the marginalised groups are benefitting from the sales.
The explosion of e-commerce as a platform for business has resulted in Chinese women venturing into entrepreneurship. In China, the e-commerce on line business is unstoppable. The women in China have taken this golden opportunity to be aggressively involved in entrepreneurship.
The situation in China was verified by the Group Chairman of Alibaba, Jack Ma. According to him, half of the sellers on its gigantic Tmall and Taobao marketplaces are women. The Alibaba Group is ranked first in e-commerce at global level.
Based on this fact, it is a clear manifestation that finally the internet has managed to equalise the playing field and has enabled women to create and pursue economic opportunities.
The President of the World Bank, Jim Kong Kim, recently launched a collaboration with AliBaba on an internet-based gender financial plan at the Global Conference on Women and Entrepreneurship organised by AliBaba in Hangzhou. The aim is to promote women’s economic empowerment .
Accordingly, Alibaba will decide whether to issue loans to women applicants based on the evaluation results of their online trades and behaviours data. Kim hailed the solution as a “very promising innovation” and stated that a collaboration will be in effect with the two organisations, promoting this technology in China and other parts of the world.
Funding for women entrepreneurs is an issue. Statistics has shown that 70 percent of women entrepreneurs in developing countries used to be rejected by financial institutions. Hence, the effort by Alibaba Group is a positive move to create an innovation in funding.
During my official visit and after learning the ecosystem of Alibaba presented by the Vice-President of Alibaba Group, Mr Brian Wong (Pix 7), in Hangzhou in 2017, it has convinced me that the due global recognition of Alibaba Group as the number one e-commerce platform is valid.
Alibaba has come with a bang in promoting and providing entrepreneurship opportunities for the women population of China. Their products and services are delivered to every corner of the world. The efficient and effective delivery system created by Alibaba has made it a household name even in the eastern bloc, especially Russia.
Another innovative platform established by the Chinese Government is the provision of space for its start-ups. Young graduates and women entrepreneurs participate in this program which is called InnoWay. It is a new concept established by the Chinese Government in accelerating its startups towards commercialisation.
Put simply, Inno Way is the convergence of innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem located in “one street” (Pix 8). This includes startups by students from universities and other players in the market.
Inno Way is a pilot project established in 2015 in Hangzhou and to be replicated to other big cities in China. Incubators were established to provide space for the startups. Hence, the various entrepreneurial activities were located in one location, strengthening the overall entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Foreigners too have occupied and made their presence in this location. For example, an entrepreneur from South Korea made a presentation to us on its educational products, confident that it would be marketable in the huge market of China.
I went to an incubator called Garbage Cafe (Pix 9); I witnessed young and “hungry” entrepreneurs busy at work. They were also networking and collaborating among themselves. They rented the cafe tables for a nominal charge and, interestingly, the owner of the cafe would consider acquiring a stake in the startups should the products are deemed marketable.
I was totally impressed with what I witnessed in The Garbage Cafe. The specialised and conducive ambience for innovation work have resulted in an efficient ecosystem for the young startups to collaborate at low costs. They were dynamic and the cost savings ecosystem has ensured of their competitive spirit to propel.
Realising the strength of technology and internet-based activities of e-commerce in China, the former Ministry of Higher Education, where I was attached to then, decided to establish an MOU with Alibaba. The move then was to ensure the young generation of college students (female and male) were exposed and could learn from the best global e-commerce platform.
In 2017, thirty higher education students from our universities, polytechnics and community colleges attended the Youth Enterpreneurship Program (YEP) for ten days in Hangzhou (Pix 10).
I had the opportunity to be with them at Alibaba Business School where our students were trained by the e-commerce experts. They underwent a simulation exercise, exposing them to the real environment of Alibaba and its many arms, including Taobao and TMart. They were taught on the activities of promotion, branding, development and marketing of products via on-line.
To further demonstrate the seriousness of entrepreneurship agenda, the Siswapreneur Showcase was formed. It was to be a platform for the students (universities, polytechnics and community colleges) to promote and sell their products in our local malls (Pix 11 and 12).
I visited the venues of Siswapreneur showcases and was totally impressed with their innovative products. The products were mostly developed by the students themselves. I realised that some of the students were doing extremely well in their respective businesses, some earning from RM6,000 (USD1,400) to RM10,000 (USD2,400) per month.
Another innovative platform, which I believe has accelerated women’s empowerment in economic activities globally, was the establishment of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in 1976 by Professor Muhammad Yunus (University of Chittagong). The modus operandi is the establishment of a small group of women with peer commitment to payment of funding. The model has been replicated by developing as well as developed countries, including Malaysia.
Targeting the women by providing micro funding for them, Malaysia established Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM) in 1987. This organisation is the equivalent of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, emulating the model and concept.
The marginalised women in Malaysia, such as the single mothers, the disabled and the poor, are given the opportunities to be registered members of AIM (Pix 13). The membership is inclusive, incorporating those from the rural and urban areas.
Besides micro-funding, they undergo skills training for their chosen businesses. Since 1987 and a statement by AIM mentioned that more than RM2.3 billion in loans had been disbursed to 262,000 borrowers. Similarly with the Grameen Bank’s approach, it is stated that AIM has the world’s highest repayment rate, at 99.2%.
Non-profit organisations in Malaysia too play a crucial role in promoting entrepreneurship. Recently, I discovered the social enterprise activities implemented by a newly minted (7 months old) Innai Merah Foundation. The organisation has been promoting social entrepreneurship for our women.
The Foundation via its SayMarket Program provides the ecosystem for the entrepreneurial activities. It locates a special space for women to display their products with its staff managing the marketing part (Pix 14). This strategy gives ample opportunities for women, especially the marginalised community, to be more involved in entrepreneurial activities.
This nation is booming in all sectors. The Vietnamese young population plus a strong fundamental economic situation have spurred the growth of Vietnam to an unprecedented level.
Textile manufacturing is huge here and women are directly involved in it. It is a known secret that many of Vietnam’s neighbours, including Malaysian women entrepreneurs, receive their supply of products, clothings especially, from this country.
For me, it is a perfect networking strategy whereby women in general are to gain from this kind of collaboration and together bringing prosperity to their societal wellbeing. Also, considering that ASEAN has a population of more than 600 million, the areas of collaboration and networking should be intensified by the women population.
Currently, Vietnam is the Chairman of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN). During its early formation in 2013 and when I was the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, I represented the Government of Malaysia on this agenda.
Amongst, the strategies forwarded at the time were, first, to intensify collaboration amongst women entrepreneurs in the ASEAN region, and second, to emulate best practices in entrepreneurship strategies for the women. A consensus decision was reached by AWEN that entrepreneurial activities was one of the modes for poverty alleviation of the marginalised women especially.
In addition, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), which was represented by me during my civil service days in Malaysia (2010-2014), had come out with the same understanding (Pix 15). Again, the agenda of entrepreneurship was seriously looked upon for the women of ASEAN to achieve societal well-being of this group, besides elevating growth performance to the member states.
Economic empowerment of women has come a long way in various perspectives in every part of the world. At this juncture, no nation can afford to marginalise women in economic participation. Studies have shown again and again that this specific action will jeopardise the nation’s economic performance if there is no compliance. Hence, investing in entrepreneurial activities for women is definitely the ultimate mode and a smart economics move.
Thank you for reading, guys!
Noorul Ainur Mohd. Nur
#womeneconomicempowerment #womenentrepreneurs #investinginwomen #womenandentrepreneurship